Booths line the outside of Ethio Addis Christmas Bazaar, organized by Jorka Event, at Millennium Hall.

On the giant outdoor public stairs of Mesqel Square, the big screen that displays the advertisement of Selam Christmas Bazaar and a walkway decorated with lights before the main gate of the Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre easily catch the eye of anyone who passes through the Square.

There is also a special scene displaying the nativity of Jesus in the middle of the walkway using figurines under a thatched roof house with a tied sheep and a donkey as described in the Gospel of Luke in the Bible.

Photographers chase after people walking up the stairs into the Bazaar, as well as the others walking down after finishing their shopping, to convince them to pose for photos.

Hiwot Kebede, in her mid-20s, was at the Bazaar on December 25, 2019, to buy some Christmas decorations for Heluya International Hotel, which is located in Shakiso in the Guji Zone of Oromia Regional State.

The human resources manager of the Hotel, Hiwot was at Africa Style’s booth bargaining for a discount for the décor items she had chosen.

After the minutes-long bargaining and negotiations, she was able to buy six Christmas tree ornaments, two ribbons, four decorated Christmas wreathes and one lighting globe for 9,000 Br.

Though Hiwot, who came to Christmas Bazaar for the fifth time, says that she found the items she was looking for, she did not get the bazaar vibe that she was expecting.

“The popularity of the exhibition appears to be losing its vibrant atmosphere and energy it used to have in previous years,” Hiwot said.

Hiwot thinks prior bazaars were bustling events with exhibitors displaying many new products but that she did not see many new items this time around and there seemed to be fewer customers.

People flocking to the two bazaars hosted at Addis Abeba Exhibition Centre and Millennium Hall.

Ehete Getachew, who was selling traditional clothes at the Centre, shares Hiwot’s tepid impression.

Ehete occupies a nine-square-metre booth that she rented for 100,000 Br for 24 days. Ehete, who owns a small shop in Shiromeda, thinks a giant bazaar like this one is a good marketplace to sell her products.

"Even though the promotion was good," said Ehete, "the market is not going as strong as it was at previous bazaars,” Ehete said.

Ehete claims that she used to sell up to 15 articles of clothing a day at preceding baazars, but now she says that she manages to sell only two.

The expo this year was organised by Commercial Nominees, a newcomer to the business that rented the venue from the Addis Abeba Exhibition & Marketing Development Centre at a cost of 39 million Br for 24 days, which was initially proposed for 17 days for 38.3 million Br.

A service rendering company under the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Commercial Nominees hosts the Bazaar that was opened on December 14, 2019, charging 30 Br as an entrance fee. The expo features 423 exhibitors.

Commercial Nominees won the bid vying with Eyoha Addis Entertainment & Event, Habesha Weekly, Century General Trading, Henok Bekele Printing and Bisrat Entertainment & Events.

Commercial Nominees operates with 33 branches, 385 permanent and more than 27,000 outsourced employees. It is engaged in event organising, employee management services, provident and employee benefit funds administration, real estate administration and is an agent for Western Union Money Transfer.

“We're not hosting the expo to make a profit," said Awgichew Abiye, operations manager of Commercial Nominees and executive organiser of the Bazaar. "We're here to promote our brand."

The walkway to Selam Christmas Bazaar's main gate comes decorated with lights and figurines under a thatched roof house with a sheep and a donkey as described in the gospel of Luke in the Bible.

Since it is the first experience for the company to organise a holiday expo, Commercial Nominees has partnered with Sisay Aderisse Promotion.

The management claims that it is being visited by an average of 24,000 people a day and says they expect a total of 600,000 visitors by the end of the bazaar.

Founded in 1983, Addis Abeba Exhibition & Marketing Development Centre rests on a 27,000Sqm area that incorporates four pavilions of different sizes.

The first hall can accommodate 90 minimum-sized booths. The second and third pavilions can hold up to 48 exhibitors each, and the fourth hall is outsourced to provide gymnasium services.

The open space at the premises of the centre can hold up to 140 booths. There are an additional four cottages and one traditional restaurant inside the premises.

Jorka Event, which was established in 2012, is also hosting another Christmas bazaar at Millennium Hall dubbed the Ethio Addis Christmas Bazaar. Opened on December 20, 2019, the fair is expected to last for 18 days.

The expo has 8,000 visitors a day and charges a 40 Br entrance fee. There are 250 exhibitors participating in the bazaar including foreign exhibitors from Turkey, India, Lebanon and Egypt selling their products ranging from household products, packed foods, cosmetics, sports machines and clothing.

For exhibitors like Matios Demisse who is a wholesaler of jackets, shorts, trousers and shoes imported from China, Ethio Addis Christmas Bazaar has lost the tendency of bringing hordes of shoppers like previous events that were hosted by Jorka.

“I used to sell up to ten products,” he said. “But now, I am selling not more than three products a day.”

Another exhibitor who is participating at Ethio Addis Christmas Bazaar is Muzemir Tessema, a young man in his early 30s. He was selling children's clothes, toys, jewelry and bags with his two sisters.

“Since it’s our first experience to participate in such a bazaar," he said, "we lack the experience of handling things."

Muzemir says that exhibitors in the other booths rent out space they are not using in their stands to smaller traders and save money.

"Since we're new participants, we have no clue if this is a strategic move,” he said.

Jorka rents the space at a cost of 6,000 Br to 7,500 Br a square metre depending on the location of the area. The minimum size of a booth is nine square metres, while the maximum is 200Sqm.

"The Bazaar is different compared to the previous once," said Tadesse Tamrat, public relations officer at Jorka, which has organised five bazaars so far.

The entrance ticket gives the opportunity to win a Toyota Vitz 2019 model car, 40-inch televisions, microwave ovens and round-trip plane tickets to Dubai for couples for four days.

Getie Andualem (PhD), a lecturer at Addis Abeba University's College of Business & Economics, says that the number of visitors to these expos has declined due to the higher rate of inflation in the economy.

"At a time when the purchasing capacity of the public decreases," said Getie, "bazaars might have fewer visitors."

PUBLISHED ON Dec 28,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1026]

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